Canberra Raiders teammates have backed debutant Kai O'Donnell to be the injection of energy they need to help them cope with multiple injury blows.
The 21-year-old forward is set to make his debut off the bench against the Melbourne Storm at Canberra Stadium on Saturday, filling the void left by the injured Corey Horsburgh (foot), Sia Soliola (face) and Emre Guler (ankle).
He's been named on an extended bench three times already this season and has been knocking on the door for a Raiders call-up with his form at training.
Teammate Michael Oldfield knows more than most what it's like to be on the fringe of Ricky Stuart's 17, having played only 52 games in a career that started in 2010.
He himself has another long-awaited chance to lock down a place with a second-straight shot as the Raiders starting No.4, replacing out-of-form Curtis Scott in the centres.
The 29-year-old centre says O'Donnell's form hasn't gone unnoticed by the Raiders squad and backs him to bring energy from the bench.
"It's exciting. We're down on troops at the moment but that's how everyone gets their shot to be honest," Oldfield said.
"Kai is one of those kids who is more than deserving, he's done a lot of work behind the scenes. Some boys do see it, we know as players he's not short of any skill there.
"He's a very hard worker and that's something we need, we need energy off that bench.
"There's going to be a lot of boys pushing a lot of minutes, so having him come off the bench with enthusiasm will be good for us."
O'Donnell hails from the Northern Queensland town of Proserpine and played two seasons for Gold Coast Titans feeder club, the Burleigh Bears, before coming to Canberra.
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He was part of the Raiders Jersey Flegg side that made last year's grand final and won the club's coaching award. He was promoted to a development player contract ahead of the 2020 season.
The Canberra crowd for his NRL debut could be larger than the entire population of his hometown, which has less than 4000 people.
But the new positive cases of coronavirus in the capital could limit the number of fans at Canberra Stadium this weekend.
O'Donnell has a daunting task ahead for his NRL debut, coming up against a powerful Storm forwards pack compete with Jesse Bromwich, Christian Welch and Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
Raiders fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad says their forwards need to step up without Soliola and Guler, especially with a string of three tough matches ahead.
"It's a big challenge for the forwards that are playing at the moment, they're going to have to stand up, play some more minutes and do a little bit more work," Nicoll-Klokstad said.
"But it's also a good opportunity for the young boys coming up like Kai debuting this weekend.
"It's really nice to see a young kid get a shot as well, he's been working really hard and doing extra work."
Veteran forward Soliola underwent surgery on Wednesday on his facial fracture, which will likely rule him out for the rest of the Raiders' 2020 campaign.
He visited his teammates at the Raiders Headquarters in Braddon on Tuesday and Nicoll-Klokstad says while he was in good spirits, it's a massive blow for the club.
"It's an unfortunate injury, he was a massive part of this team but those things you can't control," Nicoll-Klokstad said.
"He's our leader and is always at the forefront of everything. But like I said, it's a good opportunity for the other middles to step up and take a little bit more on board, especially the younger kids."
NRL ROUND NINE
Saturday: Canberra Raiders v Melbourne Storm at Canberra Stadium, 7.35pm.
Raiders squad: 1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, 2. Bailey Simonsson, 3. Jarrod Croker (c), 4. Michael Oldfield, 5. Nick Cotric, 6. Jack Wighton, 7. George Williams, 8. Josh Papalii, 9. Josh Hodgson (c), 10. Dunamis Lui, 11. Hudson Young, 12. Elliott Whitehead, 13. Joe Tapine. Interchange: 14. Siliva Havili, 15. Kai O'Donnell, 16. Ryan Sutton, 17. Jordan Rapana. Reserves: 18. Tom Starling, 19. Matt Frawley, 20. Darby Medlyn, 21. Curtis Scott.
Storm squad: 1. Ryan Papenhuyzen, 2. Marion Seve, 3. Justin Olam, 4. Paul Momirovski, 5. Josh Addo-Carr, 6. Ryley Jacks, 7. Jahrome Hughes, 8. Jesse Bromwich, 9. Cameron Smith (c), 10. Christian Welch, 11. Felise Kaufusi, 12. Kenneath Bromwich, 13. Dale Finucane. Interchange: 14. Brandon Smith, 15. Tino Fa'asuamaleaui, 16. Tom Eisenhuth, 17. Nelson Asofa-Solomona. Reserves: 18. Darryn Schonig, 19. Cameron Munster, 20. Brenko Lee, 21. Nicholas Hynes.